The Peregrine Muse

Poetry of Joop Bersee

I Am A Pawn

I love the way nature is cruel to itself,

Or so it seems. Perhaps I have fear in my eyes,

To meet nature on its own turf, nothing

To defend myself. That moment will come.

So far I managed to keep the draft away.

Then one day I’ll be naked, a blue dripping skin.

My black eyes roaring, my nails cutting

Clouds. I can only watch. This foul dog

Will put its snout deep inside and snap my back.

I am allowed to watch. I am a pawn I guess,

The sea a restless broom, eager to sweep.

The sea is a dictator, a dog barking day and night,

Licking the wounds of the coast, where splintered

Bone has broken the skin, drooling froth on

The curved ribs. A heart beating inside. Assignment.

The earth turns and turns and we are dust. I am.

Fire, lightning, waves, storms. The earth destroys

Itself. So we must die, one by one. Today, tomorrow.



I used to drink

A lot

To be able to write.

Now I write

Without alcohol,

The blood undiluted.



The river travels.

It’s a long ribbon

Babbling through

Landscapes of stone,

Plants, small towns

And the chimneys of

Cities with their rich

And poor.

Only when

The river is thin

Can you hear its different

Voices: the trickling soprano’s,

Tenors, a few leaves,

Wings of restless dragonflies.

Compared to an ocean

This is just a drop,

Even when sliding

Like a truck

After the rain,

Carrying dead things,

But also seeds

Made to conquer

The long arm of winter,

Carrying them

Into spring with

Its dark green


The rich,

Yellow buttercups





The river crawls like a snake in my arm,

Into my bowels, bounces up into my head,

Then flows gently towards a pasture

And trees, lovely beeches, branches of

A forest getting thicker, the sound of

Strange birds louder and louder, purple red

Horizon of birds of paradise. They say

That one day the forests will be gone,

Destroyed by fires, our dining-tables.

But they are wrong. The river flows to

Pastures and the roots of beech trees.


Lebanese House

A pool of blood and water

Colliding with dry sand on

The concrete floor. Newspapers

Lie scattered. A pockmarked patch

On the wall talks like a

Nervous, stuttering witness.

Mine, Hers?

My mother is her hands.

She sits like Buddha and

Plays with a few fingers,

Looking at them. First

There were cobwebs

Between her old fingers.

Now they are gone;

Slowly she wakes up

Inside me and starts to

Open the cupboards and

Becomes young again

As she lives between the

Hairs of my eyelashes,

Bending, what do I see,

Or what does she see

Through my eyes, hers?


They had tried

To cover

The sprawled


With a blanket.

Traffic going

The other way,


Almost came to a halt,

Faces staring, oval &



To catch a glimpse

Of the afterlife

On places


The body

Wasn’t properly



I Look At My Hands

I look at my hands again.

The last ten days they’ve looked like

Animals, things that live their

Own lives. Aliens moving.

Sooner or later they will go

Places I don’t want to go

To; the recycling soil,

Or the incinerator.

No, they are not exactly

A role model to follow.


Freedom of Speech

The counterdemonstrators

Ripped up the peace sign

Of a war protester.

Her sign in shreds

She was in tears.

Not about the sign,

A piece of cloth,

But about those

Returning from war


In a box.

She has rich words

She has rich words. For

His friends are her friends.

His beating, whipping words

Are hiding, bruises behind

Christmas trees, holidays

Planned years ahead, his

Unwillingness to say yes.

His hidden mouth

On the other side

Of the fish pond.

What luck can turn sour?

When she is alone in the house

She sometimes melts on the

Old stairs, feels the stairs,

The rough wood. She’ll never

Understand the incurable sore

Which has no meaning.

She just carries it with her.


Off she went

In memory of Irene and Pingle

She walked the dog.

The day peeled off a

Life and so the dog died.

A few years sailed past,

Quite a breeze, getting

Wet, wet, ropes pulling

Calluses, cuts, bruises,

Till death caught another

Sail in the wind. Off she

Went, over the fence, to

Where she and dog met,

Where they walk now,

Somehow forever.

How can it be? Or is it

This green field inside my

Head, where I see them

Walk now and then?

Early in the morning

Early, she turns the key,

The engine starts, her body

Feeling the tremor.

She looks at her watch.

And as she releases the handbrake

A train roars through her car,

Spreading its grey wings,

Stars of ashes coughing.

She returns in the evening;

The morning restored,

The seasons packed in a

Ship, colour of sunsets,

And fish and flowers

Enter the basket on the

Backseat of her car.



Ending it

The man who jumped off that

Building used to be like you and me;

Baby brand new, loved, milk,

Birthday presents, fever, more

Christmas presents, a cat, a dog,

School, first kiss, first hangover,

First job and other chapters.

Then a fuse blew.

Will that ever happen to us?

Blowing a gasket?

Who thinks about that

Walking around in the

Showroom full of shiny cars,

The smell of rubber and interiors?

This car is going to last.

Forget about the gasket.

The engine blowing up.

That baby jumping off a roof?

Don’t be crazy!

Police ribbons are gone now.



I want to go to the Dylan Thomas boathouse

I want to go to the boathouse.

I want to go to the Welsh boathouse.

A museum now, it has

Been smeared with the grease

Of dirty hands, sticky coca-cola

Hands, juicy hamburger hands,

Shiny noses and the farts

Of tourists from all over

Rubbing another original layer

Off the floor and walls.

They come here to worship,

This shrine,

This white and blue house,

Its estuary and the shed

Where he used to write,

Smoking cigarettes, opening

Rows of bottles,

Not writing a lot -

That is where

I want to go.

Where they visit the grave

And Caitlin’s grave.

She had no time to listen

To his poem while cooking

Cockles holding a baby.

How will it feel

Going to the boathouse?

Perhaps like going to a place

Where someone’s grave

Used to be.




My mother’s veined

Hands are in her lap.

The left hand starts

Rubbing the right hand.

The right hand that’s her.

The left brings it back

From the chilly foreshore

With its eager waves.



Details are slipping

More and more details

Slip away as she ages,

Opening a window,

Letting a fly escape.

How it will be chased

By the small bats

Patrolling the house.

She realises these are

Her boundaries her route.

No miracle, just evening,

The soundless wings snatching

From dusk to darkness.


Song Into My Brain

I am I am.

I am and being used.

I am and are using.

I am and am a liar.

I am and lick feet with my eyes,

My heart and my brain.

I hear the red warning that the light will be red.

Stop. But please don’t stop,

If you lie or not my ears are wrong in

The wind and the whistle,

The wrong song into my brain.

Liars are born out of a lie,

To do good. Better not

The truth. Lying to let them

Froth at the mouth because they are constantly

Not themselves, the waves,

The oceans and the havoc

They create. We are their masters,

I am a king. But once invited

Without being rude, another lie,

I die the moment I answer and say Hi,

The ocean into each orifice,

There, not wanting to be there.

But the law says I am.

It is written I am.



That Me

I am so much nobody, often,

When I listen to some of the thoughts

Of big names, big thinkers, Jung.

Somehow all they say makes sense

Unless you put it all together,

Try to add it up, then you won’t

Get one message, one answer.

You need someone to replace the motherboard;

No answer worn out. Computer smoking, burning.

Is my thinking a program? Machine like?

Can’t be, considering my medication.

I am already not myself.

I want to go to the sea to see for myself.

I want to scratch my arms and put plasters on them.

Sometimes I wonder what dies when I die.

My birth can have influenced every day of my life.

The butterfly is not a pair of pretty wings.

Perhaps the park has surrendered to its insects.

Or is it a haven for them to eat and be eaten?

No wonder the joints, alcohol, drugs, glue sniffing

From the early morning till the yellow/brown season,

Autumn or Fall. Who consumes those

Leaves, the dying insects, sick birds, old shoes against a fence?

Whose footprints are those? Does it leave footprints?

Am I a TV, the remote control hidden in

A stranger’s hand? Hindu, Christian, blackjack.

Me stored in a cold room, almost ready for

The autopsy, blue eyes staring, cutting.

This is my car lying here. Even when it is gone,

Gone through a chimney, smoke and ashes,

I will be there because my body tells me so.

Birds follow the stars and the sun and I am hungry

Or need to go to the bathroom, toilet.

I stare at my eyes and wonder who I see. I listen

To my strings, my nerves so tight. I listen to the

Banana’s on the kitchen sink, cruising, telling me

What time it is. Not one clock the right time.



The swollen river and the stick

For Jackson Pollock

The swollen river and the stick. Black paint.

The swirls of enamel splattering the earth:

Horizons and dust, comets, empty faces,

the stars never tired dark on their way.

The comet called Pollock caught in a box.

Brushes gone hard. Caught in a car. Oldsmobile:

He entered, top open. The cylinders were moving

as the earth moved through black and

the holes of fire, God’s spit, running

as deep as the waters where ships rest,

their eyes taken by teeth and death

of light and spring. The salmon

rushing towards the green leaves.

Sheets of dented metal, hands in the air.

Who’s hands built this grave for a man?

This is his best painting, this one.

This is the one that died, thundering.

The 1950 car overturned, yellow and brown,

totem waiting for him, lavender fields,

the last photograph, lost everything.

Death In Detention In Syria

(Zainab, 18 yrs old)

Not the first, not the last.

The first woman, but not the last.

Zainab al-Hosni was silenced.

But first she had to sing their

Song, fill in the gaps. She didn’t

Need her skin, you can sing

Without a skin. Skinned, skinned.

Then they silenced her, decapitated,

Fingerprints removed, her

Arms hacked off. Not the first,

And not the last. The first woman in

Syria to die in custody,

Who died in custody since protests

Erupted in March 2011. 3011. 4011. 5011. 6011. 7011.

All over the world. In each and every country.

In the open or hidden, growing nevertheless;

Read your history books.

There are always new people

To hack and to die, bodies to rot,

Presidents to swing with a broken neck,

In the streets of the President.

The tree has come down. The paper

Has been made. The airline ticket to the judges.

The rope is waiting.

You cannot hide behind gold and silver.

You cannot hide behind champagne,

Your puppets drooling dreaming together

With you. Death is silence. Quiet. Closing in

On you, today and today and today mister President.


Oak Tree

For Jamey Rodemeyer* - gay.

The beggars were pounding at the door.

Digital pole-axes. Ugly eyes, mouths

Surrounding you. Spider webs, foul

Mud. Their ancient words came crawling

Out of guts, the pearls of worms, loud

Chambers of stone. Tremor of words

Softly vibrating into your spine.

Water in a silent pond, sudden ripples,

Wandering flood, where is your harbour,

Where is your day, your cornerstone?

You are a wheel, refusing to stop,

Involving our eternity as long as we breathe.

The wheel keeps on turning, even after

Our begging for mercy has decayed in God’s hands.

I wonder where your story will end.

Born like this. Died like this.

Remembered by unseen creatures in the sea,

Secret words in an old book. But also

Fortissimo, tearing our ears, brains

As the soft voice becomes louder,

Larger, grows from an acorn into

A tree. A tree is beautiful, or

A tree is simply a tree.


*14 year old bullied for being gay to the

extent that he committed suicide.

Joop Bersee was born in Holland in 1958. From 1989 until 1996 he lived in South Africa where he began writing poetry in English. Currently he works for the library of a museum in Amsterdam. His poetry has been widely published in South Africa, the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, India and the United States.  In 2011 he was one of the winning poets of the Dalro Award, a prestigious South African prize.